Saturday, December 12, 2015

You guys, I'm like an anthropologist now!

There is an immigration phenomenon in Australia called the "work holiday visa," and it has changed the initial conversation we have with people when we first meet them.

Initial Conversation Before Australia:

"Hi! Where are you from?"
"Oh cool! What part?"
"Nashville, Tennessee."
"Country music!"
"Are you a country music singer?"
"Oh. Where else have you lived?"

Initial Conversation In Australia:

"Where is that accent from?"
"I'm from the States."
"Ooh, I was going to guess Canada, glad I didn't get it wrong!"
"Haha. No worries, Canadians are the more polite North Americans, so I'll take it as a compliment."
"[awkward laugh]"


I've been working with a catering company since November, which means I have been coming into contact with a lot of Australians, either as co-workers or as customers, and in my entirely unscientific observations I've found that 85% of the time the Australians assume I've come to their country on a work holiday visa.

Lemme explain what the work holiday visa thing is. Australia offers a no-strings-attached visa to young adults (18-30 years old) who want to come to Australia and bum around and work odd jobs for a year. You don't have to have already been hired, you don't need a sponsor, you can just move to Australia and have a roving gap year. It's not offered to every country, but the list is pretty impressive, and I'd say 90% of my co-workers at this catering company are on a work holiday visa so the thing definitely gets used.

It is my professional entirely amateur opinion that the work holiday visa has had an impact on Australian culture and presuppositions about people like me who have come to their country.

Impact #1. They assume anyone who looks to be under thirty (thank youuu!) is on a work holiday visa, so they feel no curiosity about anyone who is not Australian and also serving them food.

This doesn't just apply to the customers, I've found the same thing with my Australian and non-Australian co-workers, too. The fun part about this assumption is seeing how long it takes for people to realize that I'M A REALLY INTERESTING PERSON! my humble opinion.

If the Initial Conversation goes beyond just finding out my home country, they'll follow up with asking what brings me to Australia. That's usually phrased as:

"So you're on a work holiday?"
"No I'm getting my masters."
"Masters! Wow! In what?"
"Education. I'm a teacher."
"Oh! Why aren't you teaching here?"
"Well, my husband and I are trying to get registered to teach here, but it is a complicated process."
"Why is that?"
"We have to get background checks from all the countries we've lived in and that can take a while."
"Oh yeah I've heard the FBI check takes forever."
"It does, and one country we lived in doesn't even DO background checks for non-residents."
" many countries have you lived in?"

And BAM! I've snagged them! mwahaha

Sometimes it's the fact that I have a husband that snags them.

"Wait, you're married?!"
"For how long?"
"Seven years."
"SEVEN YEARS?! You don't look old enough to have been married seven years!"
"Thank you! [hair flip]"
"How old are you?"

And then they usually go on and on about how youthful I look and ask me about my skincare regimen---ok, that's not true, it's usually followed with

"Why are you working at a catering company?!"

Fair enough.

The post-initial conversations have many paths, but the point is that because of the work holiday visa, I think Australia is usually people's first international home, so no one asks where else I've lived. I realize that because of our profession as international teachers, the Initial Conversations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have naturally gravitated toward inquiry into our previous experience. I just think it's interesting that no one is curious here.

Impact #2. Because the easiest jobs for work holiday visa holders to get hired for involve serving food or just working in a service industry in some capacity, it appears that the vast majority of Australians have never had to work in such positions and have NO IDEA HOW TO TREAT THE WAITSTAFF!

With 10 years of experience in 5 different restaurants of varying level of "fanciness" (it's a Michelin category, look it up), I've had a lot of the food and bev industry in my day, and I can always spot the customer that has worked in a service industry. They take note of the waitstaff, say thank you, move their water glass so the waiter doesn't have to go-go-gadget his arm to pour a refill, alert their tablemates to the presence of the waitstaff (especially if she is holding a scalding hot and very heavy plate in her hand and is about to drop it on their designer clutch that is ON THE TABLE DURING MAIN COURSE SERVICE FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON), and use phrases such as, "Can you help me with..." or "Whenever you get the chance..." or "Please."

At the American restaurants, I'd say that there was at least one customer at every table I waited on that had either been a server at one time or had been schooled by a friend who was a server on how to make the waitress not feel sub-human.

In Australia I'm lucky if there is one per shift.

To be clear, the Australians aren't making feel me sub-human, but they definitely don't empathize with the waitstaff as often as I experienced in the States. I blame the work holiday visa. My thoroughly researched and evidenced hacked theory is that because the work holiday folks always take the low-paying service industry jobs, Australians are more likely to go into a career as a first job or something less in-service-to-the-public. Because they've never been a server, they don't know about things like the fact that we get assigned sections of the restaurant or banquet hall to tend to, so you can't just claim me as "your girl," flattering as that is. They also don't know about things like paying attention when food is being served at the table and maybe pressing pause on the conversation that requires you to lean over two table settings and makes it impossible to put a plate down. The most surprising has been how some people react when their conversation gets interrupted repeatedly because a huge line of catering servers is waiting to get past them down the aisle between tables. We really do try to take the path of least resistance, but sometimes it's unavoidable. I've literally had customers see me standing with arms full of plates and they just nod and smile.

I'm not saying behavior like this would never happen in America, I'm 100% sure it does. I'm just recording my anthropological observations for discussion and as a way to pass along a little bit of my experience with the natives of this strange new land.

Tee hee

Vicariously yours,

Sunday, December 6, 2015

If we knew then what we know now

In many regards I am not spontaneous at all. Family and friends probably guffawed at that statement, considering that I'm writing this post from my apartment in AUSTRALIA, a country to which I moved having no friends, no job, no place to live, and no leads on any of those things before we boarded the flight to Melbourne (except for the friends part, but that lead didn't materialize until a couple weeks before we moved). For many people, this move to Australia seemed spontaneous and crazy--and I often include my husband in that group of many people. Truth be told, I am a serial planner. I calculate, plan for the best, plan for the worst, research...and then I stop planning. I see if the idea continues to fester even after I've left google and months, sometimes years later I start planning again but this time with the knowledge that this plan is the one I want to follow.

Even moving overseas was not spontaneous. I decided I wanted to live internationally when I was in the seventh grade. I'd known I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was in Mrs. Sawyer's second grade class, and then when Ms. Hawkins, my seventh-grade social studies teacher, mentioned something about international teaching on one of her many random tangents we were so good at getting her on, I had a new spin on my life plan. Thankfully I fell in love in high school with a boy who had a similarly international plan and he has obliged my flights of fancy ever since. So this whole let's-go-live-in-Australia plan has been in the works for almost 20 years, you see.

But all my planning did not prepare me for what has actually transpired. In many, MANY regards living in Australia has been so easy. In just as many, however, it has been very difficult. There are so many parts of my plan that have fallen apart and soo many ways that I'm kicking myself thinking, "You should have known this would happen!"

So, for posterity and as a warning to anyone considering this same harebrained scheme, I'm recording all the things we would do differently had we known then we what know now*.

1. Save up a LOT of money before you move here. Like $60,000-70,000 at LEAST. That is the cost of a comfortable year for two non-backpacker adults in Melbourne that could even allow for some travel if you play your cards right. I say that because it has been really difficult for Tyler and I to find work. Like, really difficult. To be fair, we didn't start the job search in earnest until late September/October because we were settling in and working on our classes. According to my obsessive calculations, we would have enough savings on hand to last us the first semester so I felt no rush. And then we arrived and found things to be a LOT more expensive than I'd planned for. Oops.

Combined Tyler and I have applied to probably 35 different jobs. I've applied to countless restaurants, I even applied to demonstrate vacuum cleaners in department stores! We have both gone into this job search with the attitude that no job is beneath us, so we will do just about anything to make money. BUT NO ONE WANTS US!

I don't know if it is the student visa and the required limitations on work hours that comes along with it that makes us unattractive candidates. I don't know if it is the fact that we have college degrees and are overqualified. Maybe we're too old and they are confused as to why we aren't working a grown-up job. I may never know because NO ONE ANSWERS EMAILS OR RETURNS PHONE CALLS IN THIS COUNTRY! I've followed up with employers and have gotten nothing but silence. Not even the courtesy of "have received your email but am not interested." Not a text message, messenger pigeon. NOTHING!

So save your pennies, kiddies, because you're going to be unemployed in Australia for a LOT longer than you have planned.

2. Get a police check before you leave Kuwait. Ok, so this is obviously very specific to our situation, but I am kicking myself for not taking care of this before we left Kuwait. We didn't need police checks for our visa, but I had the idea to get one for each of us just in case we would end up needing it, but in all the rush of packing and finishing the school year, I just didn't do that errand.


In order to get registered as teachers in Victoria, Tyler and I need to submit background checks from all the countries in which we have lived for the past 10 years. For normal people this wouldn't be a hard task, but we had to go and live in three countries governed by very bureaucratic, famously-slow-moving officials, and one country won't even issue a background check UNLESS I FLY TO RIYADH AND ASK FOR ONE NICELY! So while I'm trying to find "sufficient proof" that I have done "everything in my power" to obtain a background check from Saudi Arabia, we are waiting on Kuwait and the FBI to send us the background checks that will tell us what we already know: we aren't child abusers with felonious tendencies. It is going to take the FBI 16 to 18 weeks (that's four months for those that don't want to do the math) to get back to us and Kuwait will return our paperwork "insh'allah."

My hopes are not high.

3. Investigate the universities a little more. In my case I'm a little disappointed with my grad school experience. Sure, my school is number five in the world for education (it was number two when I started looking into schools), and it is the university I have aimed at getting my masters from ever since I was an undergrad, but the experience is not what I had in mind. My university caters to Australians that are working full time, so the class schedule is very open and a lot of the work is expected to be done independently. Our articles are sometimes discussed during class sessions, but most of my experience has been on my own. I feel like I'm essentially getting a very expensive online degree that requires a dash of face-to-face time. I'm frustrated because I chose to quit teaching for a year so that I could study full time and avoid getting an online degree. Nothing against online degrees, I just can't learn that way. I'm a master procrastinator and I retain information that I have discussed rather than read so I need the class time to get the most of out my very expensive time here.

Tyler's school, on the other hand, appears to be all about the jobless international student...probably more because international students pay full tuition unlike subsidized Australian students and less so because of a desire to share knowledge with the world. The frustrating thing about Tyler's experience has been the fact that his school is almost TOO accommodating for learners of all situations, making their classes "flexible," meaning they can been attended on campus or online. The issue with that is the US government will not issue a loan for an international school if any part of courses is offered online. Nevermind the fact that because of the terms of our student visa Tyler couldn't choose the online option because we have to attend classes on campus in order to stay in the country, the US government has said no-go. Thankfully Tyler has been insistent and has gotten the university to produce proof that he is attending on campus and is therefore eligible for the loan, but it was really stressful there for a while.

4. Don't depend on loans for your tuition. Tyler and I started looking at universities in Australia and New Zealand back when we were in Saudi Arabia. That was five years ago. When we were making a LOT more money than we were making in the US and eventually made in Kuwait.


I am a two-time graduate of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University**! Why didn't I save more money!?

Alas, hindsight is too late.

Despite all this stress that Tyler and I find ourselves in right now, I am grateful for this place all our planning--or lack thereof--has gotten us. With every new country Ty and I move to our marriage has gotten stronger, our friendship more significant, and Australia has been no exception. Because we can't afford to go out for drinks or fancy meals, we are having more dinner "dates" with ourselves at home and having real conversations. I have always thought it was cheesy and untrue when people say stuff like "I love you more today than I did back then," but I'm beginning to understand why people say that. I don't necessarily love Tyler more now than I did when we first met or even first married, but my love has changed and gotten so much stronger and deeper because of the years and miles we've put behind us. I can't wait until we are pouring ourselves two glasses of wine while sitting on our fabulous beach house porch and laughing at all the lessons we learned together all those years ago in Australia. the meantime, if anyone has a winning lottery ticket they don't know what to do with, help a sister out.

Vicariously yours,

*Keep in mind our situation: We are too old for a working holiday visa and we didn't have jobs that brought us to Oz. Had either of those conditions been in place, this would have been a wildly different blog post.

**Not actually an accredited university